I learn from the people I surround myself with. When we are different, I sometimes feel uncomfortable because we have little in common. Through curiosity and questioning however, I’ve often realised that we are more similar than we think we are.
Reflecting on 2022, my wish for 2023 is that we step into it with our eyes and ears wide open and start seeing ourselves for who we truly are. Consider how you may judge someone based on your own biases, lived experience or opinions?
Learn to soften to other people’s accent, background, class, colour, disability, gender, health, ideas, opinions, preferences, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc., become aware of your own discomfort and be genuinely curious about other people’s uniqueness so that you may learn to embrace difference, start to grow and erase any biases.
As children, we quickly learn that our actions will receive either a positive or negative response from our parents. Since the brain is built for reward, we learn to avoid the reprimands from our parents and aim for praise and recognition.
With that in mind, let’s look at some advice that you may have received from your parents that may affect your performance today:
Don’t be selfish . As children we are taught to share our toys and not to be selfish.
As adults however, this advice may play out as caring for everyone in the team, before caring for yourself, so you risk burning out.
You may need to reframe the word ‘selfish’ as ‘self-care’. I advise managers to put their own oxygen masks on first, before helping others in their team. If you don’t care for yourself first, you may not have enough energy to care for your team. The healthier and happier you are, the more you can help others.
If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it. We are taught to be kind and nice to our friends and family.
As adults however, we may not be able to give critical feedback to our team members as we don’t want to offend anyone. We want to be nice.
Reframe giving any form of critical feedback as that of giving a gift. Feedback can be given kindly, yet firmly, and quite frankly, without it your team members are unable to grow and learn new ways of working, that will help them develop in the long run.
Respect your elders . As children we are told to respect our parents, grandparents, older siblings and extended family.
As an adult you may respect hierarchy and find yourself silently sitting in the boardroom. You may believe that the other, more senior people in the room need to be respected, leaving you with little or nothing to add. The way you act and react in situations today, is often the result of years of hardwiring and affects your performance.
A client related how powerless she felt to voice her opinion to senior peers, even though she was the project lead and had to offer her advice and guidance. She didn’t want to speak her mind because she didn’t want to seem disrespectful. As a child, her mother had told her she should hold her superiors in high regard.
My client was hardwired ‘not to challenge’ and to ‘act respectfully around her superiors’, albeit that she disagreed with them and knew her advice was sound.
Irrespective whether you are the youngest or least experienced person in the room, you must remember that you have been invited to the meeting for a reason. Withholding good advice can be more harmful than saying nothing at all.
A good place to start understanding why you may act and react in the way that you do is to:
Become aware of where your emotions, thoughts and feelings stem from, and challenge them.
Ask yourself ‘How does this behaviour reward me?’ Remember that there is reward in all of your behaviour, albeit that you may find it less useful today.
Reframe your old ideas into positive actions that reward you today.
When you start to understand where your natural responses stem from, you can begin to change your reactions in the moment and improve your performance.
Reflection is one of the most underestimated, yet powerful activities that we can gift ourselves. It’s a brilliant way to become aware of what drives you, what and who triggers you, and what your standard responses and ‘bad habits’ may be. It can help you on your way to self-awareness and eventually self-care.
Today I’m sharing my own approach to Reflection, AURA.
By learning to slow down, and reflecting with the AURA approach, you start to understand where your natural responses take you. Ask yourself ‘what happened in a situation and ‘what you could have done differently? Get in touch with your feelings. How did the situation make you feel? Does a specific person ‘bring out the worst in you?
You will need to apply what you have learned, so the next time you’re in a similar situation, you will have a different response to hand, to try out. Don’t however get frustrated. Change is not easy and your brain will want to take the road most traveled and you may fall into old habits.
Without change, you stay stuck in old patterns and you will get the same result. However, understanding where your ‘programmed responses’ stem from, can help you to take a more emotionally intelligent stance in your next encounter.
When I immigrated 9000 km to another part of the world, my father told me that nothing would really change in my life.
How could that be true? I would be living in a different country, I would need to learn a new language, traditions and culture so how could it be possible that nothing would change?
My father was not referring to the excitement and changes of living in another country. He was advising me that how I lived my life, the choices I made and the natural rhythm of my day-to-day comings and goings would not change.
My father was right. Nothing changed.
Every weekday I woke up, had breakfast, went to gym and to work, came home, had dinner and spent time with my husband, watched tv, read a book and went to bed.
Whether it’s weight gain, weight loss, showing up differently at work, going to bed earlier, becoming more confident, managing emotions, becoming less defensive, exercising……. What constitutes your rhythm and what stands in your way of changing?
Our brains are built for speed, so many of our decisions and choices are based on our past experiences and the (positive) outcomes that we have had. If there’s a quick decision to be made we often choose the path of least resistance to get things done, and quickly.
Change feels uncomfortable. It slows us down and takes us through stages of ‘unconscious incompetence’ or what I refer to as, ‘ignorance is bliss’. It is blissful not knowing that you need to change but, once you know what needs to change, there’s no ignoring it and no going back.
The next stage we reach is ‘conscious incompetence’ i.e. having to make a conscious effort to make any changes. This is where many people give up, as their natural rhythm of life and ‘bad’ habits get in their way of change. You may start asking yourself ‘Why do I need to change? It can’t be all bad as I’ve gotten to where I am today, doing what I’ve always done!’
When we reach the stage of ‘conscious competence’, we’re starting to make good headway. We are slowing down, reflecting and making new choices without feeling that we are compromising.
Through self-awareness, being aware of what needs to be unlearned and constantly and consistently choosing the new path, we finally reach the stage of ‘unconscious competence’. At this stage our brain is rewiring itself and creating new neural pathways so that our new choices can be supported and we can once again act as speedily as before.
To encourage change, you may need to consider your current rhythm and how you mentally reward yourself e.g. if you say yes to many activities at work, yet feel overwhelmed and overworked, you may ask yourself how you benefit from saying yes? Old habits’ may ‘die hard’ but when we start listening to what’s really good for us we can change to ensure that ‘old dogs learn new tricks’.
Whilst visiting a local market, 30 years ago, I bought the cabinet pictured. I fell in love with the green and gold blocks and its age. I was however less enamoured by the top of the cabinet which, at the time, was a block of brilliant, white wood.
I had been practicing decorative painting techniques for a few years, so I bought some red paint, books of gold leaf, gold size (glue for sticking gold leaf) and some acid to age the shiny gold, on completion. The result may not be technically perfect but, I love it all the same and this once, mediocre, market find, is now one of my treasured pieces of furniture.
Today, this cabinet acts as a reminder that we are all works in progress. Experiences from our childhood and our careers may have left us with a few rough edges or we may be ‘bleached white’; unable to show the world who we really are.
What stands in your way of showing your whole self at work? What serves you well about your behaviour? What behaviours are standing in your way of your next promotion?
Reflect, get to know yourself, be brave and make changes that will help you show up every day as your (im)perfect, beautiful, authentic, colourful self.